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Tuesday, Sep 1, 2009

This past week saw the public debut of material by Bad Lieutenant, as the band uploaded the track “Sink or Swim” on its MySpace page.  Bad Lieutenant is the new group formed by singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner, after the dissolution of his previous band New Order by bassist Peter Hook in 2007.  The breakup is an interesting story in of itself, as Hook went around telling interviewers that the group was over while his bandmates expressed surprise and bafflement over his remarks for months on end.


While the group features latter-day New Order guitarist Phil Cunningham and contributions from stalwart Joy Division/New Order drummer Stephen Morris, the impression is that Bad Lieutenant is very much Sumner’s band.  “Sink or Swim” is a decent start, if not a particularly striking one, not sounding out of place among material by British indie bands more than half Sumner’s age.  The song takes advantage of the fact that a bassist of Hook’s caliber is not laying down the central melody, instead letting guitarist Jake Evans weave winding leads throughout.  While Sumner has never been the greatest singer in the world, there’s a certain charm to his soft, average-guy-singing-in-the-elevator voice, and it suits the song perfectly.  Despite the song’s downer lyrics, Sumner sounds quite pleased to be surrounded by so many guitar parts.


The song gets a physical release on September 21, with the group’s debut album Never Cry Another Tear due in October.  Meanwhile, Hook has remarked to The Quietus recently that material by his long-gestating Freebass project (featuring fellow Manchester, England bass legends Andy Rourke of The Smiths and Mani of The Stone Roses) is due for release around the same time as Bad Lieutenant’s record.  He’s even gone as far as to refer to his potential showdown with his former bandmate as “a bit like a fat version of Blur and Oasis”, referencing the epic UK chart showdown between the Britpop titans for the number one single slot in 1995.  Will either of these releases chart that high?  Not likely, but at least Bad Lieutenant has so far given the public a glimpse of something promising coming out of the unfortunate end of New Order.


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Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009

Nothing makes you feel like a Johnny-come-lately quite like stumbling upon a new band, only to discover that all their releases are way sold out. So it goes with Cold Cave, a loose collective of delightfully noisy, new wave revivalists from Philadelphia who I happened upon this morning via the Matablog. Wesley Eisold, who formerly fronted totally crucial hardcore acts Some Girls and Give Up the Ghost, is the band’s principal, around whom a cast of contributors—including former Xiu Xiu member Caralee McElroy—rotates.


Luckily for us latecomers, Matador has seen fit to snap up the band and will re-release their full-length, Love Comes Close, on November 3. A collection of odds and sods, presumably culled from the band’s long out of print singles, will follow. In the meantime, listen to “Life Magazine,” a fuzzed-out slice of eminently danceable synth-pop with an invitingly childlike vocal assist from McElroy. As it turns out, McElroy’s backing vocals on Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s cover of “When You Were Mine” only hinted at her potential. On “Life Magazine” she comes into her own as a frontwoman who’s equal parts disarming and enigmatic—the distant echo of her voice only leaves the listener wanting more. Just try not to get hooked on this song—I dare you.


Cold Cave
“Life Magazine” [MP3]
     



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Thursday, Aug 13, 2009

Let it not be said that the members of Radiohead don’t know how to employ the element of surprise. Just a few short days after loosing uncharacteristic new track “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”, the band made headlines again when frontman Thom Yorke told the Believer that, “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again.” This quote was, of course, quickly spun out of context, with blog commenters the world over fearfully predicting that there would be no new material from Radiohead for the foreseeable future. In fact, Yorke was hinting that the opposite was true: by leveraging their direct-to-fan distribution platform, the band hoped to release music in fits and spurts, in the form of EPs and singles. If anything, Yorke seemed to suggest that we would be seeing new music from the band very soon indeed. 
 
It’s curious, then, that just a few days later, we should happen upon this: “These Are My Twisted Words,” an allegedly “leaked” MP3 that sounds an awful lot like a new Radiohead song. The track surfaced on the At Ease fan messageboard yesterday, accompanied by little more than a title. On peer-to-peer networks, however, the lone MP3 was flanked by an “nfo” file, containing a cryptic, Yorke-esque rant hinting at an August 17th release date.


And what of the song itself? It’s a guitar-heavy number, awash with seasick, cascading arpeggios yet firmly-rooted by a syncopated drum line and a deep bass groove. The vocals don’t kick in until just past the 2:30 mark but when they do, the sound of Yorke’s cheerless moan is nigh unmistakable. For all its mystery, the track would feel right at home among the back-to-basics numbers of Hail to the Thief.


So is this a new Radiohead song or not? While all signs seem to point toward ‘yes’, as of yet, there’s no confirmation from the band or their management. In the meantime, why not decide for yourself?


Tagged as: leak, radiohead
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Wednesday, Aug 5, 2009

In classic Radiohead fashion, Thom and the boys unleashed a new track on an unsuspecting blogosphere today: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”. The song is a tribute to Harry Patch, the British supercentenarian who was the last living World War I veteran to have fought in the trenches. Patch passed away at the ripe old age of 111 on July 25th and is set to be buried tomorrow at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.


While a fitting tribute, the track is something of an anomaly in the Radiohead catalog—it’s easily the most purely orchestral they’ve ever penned. Built atop a foundation of weepy strings (arranged by Jonny Greenwood), the song marries orchestral sweep with a pronounced undercurrent of existential dread. Structurally, it sounds a bit like a distant cousin of “You and Whose Army?”, were that song’s guitars swapped out for a string section. While the lyrics are all Patch quotes, many of the lines feel like classic Yorke constructions (“They came up from all sides,” “I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground”). Patch, who became an outspoken critic of war late in his life, apparently had a “profound effect” on Yorke, who urged listeners not “to forget the true horror of war” in a post to the deadairspace blog.


“Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” premiered on BBC Radio 4 this morning and is now streaming in its entirety on the BBC website. The track can be purchased from the W.A.S.T.E. shop for £1, with all proceeds going to UK veterans’ charity, the Royal British Legion.


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Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009

File this under “Two more reasons John Zorn’s Tzadik is one of the coolest record labels around” and “can’t an hombre kvetch?”


We’re only halfway through 2009 and Tzadik has seen the release of two of the most exciting jazz recordings of the year, courtesy of a surprising source.


Cuban-born percussionist Roberto Juan Rodriguez grew up in Miami and, like many children, was heavily influenced by the music of his surroundings. Many kids absorbed the Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms of south Florida’s communities. Others lapped up the strong Caribbean flavor running through the city. Still others took to Dade County’s burgeoning hip-hop and club scenes. In Rodriguez’s case, however, the music that moved him originated from an unlikely source: Jews. As a teenager in his father’s bands, Rodriguez played his fair share of Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. He became enamored with the sounds of Miami’s large Jewish population and eventually provided music for a local Yiddish theater. Over time, Rodriguez began to envision the union of Jewish folk aesthetics with the Cuban music of his ancestry.


Fast-forward a dozen or so years and John Zorn has finally allowed Rodriguez’s vision to become a reality—and we’re all better off for it. In February, Tzadik released Rodriguez’s brilliant soundtrack to The First Basket, a documentary film about the history of Jews in basketball. Featuring both traditional acoustic and modern electronic instrumentation, the soundtrack is a tasty stew of Sephardic melodies and Cuban rhythms filled with generous chunks klezmer, club, and blues. Then, last month Rodriguez did it again on Tzadik with the release of Timba Talmud, another exciting fusion of Jewish and Latin music. The album’s opening track, “La Hora,” a play on the traditional Jewish dance song, is a blistering, infectious jam. Rodriguez provides an astounding percussion foundation that makes you wonder if he has more than two hands. And his bandmates readily fall in line with excellent violin, bass, and horn lines. 


Tzadik is certainly no stranger to the fusion of traditional Jewish music with other genres. The label’s Radical Jewish Culture series has almost single-handedly revived/created an (secular) interest in traditional Jewish music (and not only among folk music aficionados, but with those in the jazz and rock worlds as well). Rodriguez certainly isn’t the first artist on the label to combine Jewish and Latin music. In 2007, David Buchbinder’s brilliant Odessa/Havana showed that klezmer melodies and Cuban rhythms were not mutually exclusive. And Zorn’s own Masada groups have merged countless styles and aesthetics. Tzadik’s experimental juggling of genres and styles has also seeped into the mainstream jazz world as a renewed interest in the melding of diverse styles can be seen far and wide.


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